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IN THE NEWS - Bush Supports Israeli Withdrawal Plan - 2004-04-16

Broadcast: April 17, 2004

This is Steve Ember with the VOA Special English program, In the News.

President Bush this week announced his support for a proposal by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. The plan is called a disengagement. Details published Friday said Israel would remove troops and all settlements from the Gaza Strip by the end of next year. About seven-thousand settlers live there.

Israel would also remove four settlements in the West Bank. But six large settlements would remain. The ruling Likud party of Mister Sharon is expected to vote on the proposal on May second.

Mister Sharon visited the White House on Wednesday. President Bush praised what he called "historic and courageous actions." Mister Bush said Friday that the plan gives the Palestinians, in his words, "a chance to create a reformed, just and free government."

Palestinian leaders have denounced the president. Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia said Mister Bush is the first president to accept Jewish settlements in Palestinian territories. Opposition to settlements has been American policy for more than twenty years.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair was at the White House Friday. He said he welcomed the plan. Mister Blair urged other countries to get involved. He said this is a chance to help the Palestinians get ready to govern the territory that would be under their control.

At least for now, Israel would continue to control airspace, waters and land passages.

Mister Sharon says the disengagement is necessary because the Palestinian Authority has failed to stop attacks against Israelis. Diplomatic efforts also have not succeeded.

A Bush administration official said the president supports the plan because Israel is taking steps to remove existing settlements. Mister Bush said removing all Jewish settlements in the West Bank would be unrealistic.

Palestinian officials called for an emergency meeting of the United Nations, the United States, Russia and the European Union. Palestinian President Yasser Arafat says Palestinians will never stop seeking an independent state with Jerusalem as its capital.

Israel captured Gaza and the West Bank in the nineteen-sixty-seven Middle East War. It soon began to build settlements. Palestinians want their own state in all of the West Bank and Gaza. They also demand the right of return to lands that are now part of Israel.

Mister Bush says Palestinian refugees should settle in a future Palestinian state. He urged Israel and the Palestinians to negotiate a final settlement to establish borders and to settle the refugee issue.

The Israeli plan also provides for a security barrier that is being built through parts of the West Bank. Palestinians say it divides their land and their lives. President Bush say the barrier should be temporary.

On Friday, several thousand Palestinians protested against President Bush and Prime Minister Sharon.

In the News, in VOA Special English, was written by Cynthia Kirk. This is Steve Ember.